Greater Rochester International Airport (KROC) has two flying clubs, which through historical accident have a lot of overlap in our respective fleets, but huge differences in our operating philosophies. Both clubs are also suffering from the down turn in flying caused by the lousy economy, high fuel costs, ridiculous security theatre, stupid liability law climate, etc. Our costs are going up, which causes members to leave, which causes costs per member to go up further, which causes more members to leave, etc. It’s a bad spiral to be in. So naturally both clubs are wondering if we could combine forces to weather this down turn.
On the low end, their club has a PA28-161 Warrior and our club has two PA28-181 Archers. The planes are built on the same fuselage and so are very similar. They’re 4 seaters, a bit cramped, but with the payload you’re really only going to be putting two or three people in it – the Archer has 20 more horsepower so it goes a little faster, carries a bit more, but their Warrior is well equipped with a Garmin 530W panel mount GPS. Advantage: them.
In the mid range, they have two PA28R-201 Arrows. The Arrow is just like the Warrior and Archer, with 20 horsepower more than the Archer, and retractable landing gear. The retractable landing gear gives them some more speed, but at the cost of some payload because of the weight and complexity. Also, the retractable gear means you need special training to fly them, and there is always the fear of landing gear-up which makes insurance companies nervous. Our club has a PA28B-236 Dakota. The Dakota gets its speed through raw horsepower, so even though it has fixed gear it manages about the same cruise speed as the Arrows. The fuel burn is higher, but maintenance costs are lower than the Arrow. It also has a way better payload, so while it would be cramped, you really can get 4 adults in it. Both their Arrows and our Dakota have a Garmin 530W on the panel. Advantage: us.
On the high end, both clubs have a P32R-300 Lance. The Lance is a big beefy 6 seater, with retractable gear, good cruising speed, and it can haul 4 people and a lot of gear. Again, you’ve got the cost and complexity of a retractable gear airplane, but worst of all, the insurance companies have made us go to “named pilot” policies, so in both clubs only about 6 people in the club are authorized to fly it, and those people pay a surcharge for the privilege. Their Lance is better equipped with a pretty recent engine, and a Garmin 530W on the panel. Unfortunately it has the “T-tail” that Piper was so enamoured of for a number of years – that reduces the useful load a bit, and I’m told it’s a tiny bit harder to fly. Our straight tailed Lance, on the other hand, has an ancient panel, and a run-out engine. Basically the whole reason for the two clubs to talk is that our club didn’t think it could justify spending $30,000 to replace the engine if only 6 people are going to fly it, and they’d like to see more people flying their Lance. Advantage: them.
The way I see it, we’ve got three basic options
- Find a way to merge the clubs.
- Find a way to share their Lance between the two clubs.
- Form a third flying club/partnership to buy their Lance (or maybe some other Lance).
In my opinion, this would be the best option, but it would also be the hardest. As I mentioned earlier, the clubs have different philosophies. The biggest obstacle is that their club makes you buy a “share” based on the current value of the planes when you join, and sell back your share when you quit. This means that joining their club right now costs $14,000 or so. On the other hand, our club charges a non-refundable nominal initiation fee – currently only $800. I can’t see our club members coming up with an additional $13,000, and I can’t see the other club being happy with giving equal status to those of us who’ve only invested $800 (or less – it was only $500 when I joined).
Other examples of the clash of philosophies are that our planes are outside on tie downs and they have t-hangars, and they have a strict schedule for replacing engines whereas our club prefers to wait until the engine is showing reduced compression, making metal, or otherwise showing signs of age.
But if we could resolve those differences, I’d like to see a club consisting of their Warrior, one of our Archers or one of their Arrows, our Dakota, and their Lance. Assuming everybody stays, that would get the plane to person ratio down to 1:12, which in the glory days of 10 years ago would have meant a lot of scheduling conflicts, but would probably work these days because even people who are flying aren’t flying as much.
I tried to work out the logistics of this one, but I don’t know enough about law or accounting. In this scenario, our club sells the Lance and uses that money to buy a half interest in their Lance. The Lance surcharges, hourly rates and such goes into a separate account contributed to and used by both clubs just for Lance expenses, maintenance and fuel. In a way, this isn’t too different from the “Third Club” option except that the asset (the Lance) remains the property of the two clubs. You’d still have to keep all Lance income and expenses scrupulously separate from the other planes.
This option would allow both clubs to free themselves from the expense of their respective Lances. Those of us who want to continue to fly Lances would probably have to pony up some money to buy a good Lance, and would have some monthly dues for it. But considering that both flying clubs use complicated formulas to determine their monthly fees and Lance pilot surcharge, hopefully the costs of remaining a member of the existing flying clubs will go down enough that the Lance drivers can remain members of their current clubs. This is my least favourite of the options because it involves me trying to scrape up enough cash to buy a share.
Hmmmm. Interesting times.